Federal regulators Friday slapped Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant in Russellville with $135,500 in fines for 29 violations related to worker health and safety, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Cited incidents at the plant include failing to label containers with appropriate hazardous warnings, ummarked fire exits, fall hazards, unsecured chlorine containers, batteries that exposed workers to acid burns and electrical shocks and a lack of hand protection.
“Pilgrim’s is committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace for our employees,” company spokesman Gary Rhodes stated in an e-mail. “We take these matters very seriously and we intend to meet with OSHA officials soon to review the violations and correct any deficiencies.”
The company has 15 business days to comply, contest or request an information conference on the charges.
“This company has been cited numerous times in the last five years and should be aware of the safety and health measures that need to be addressed to protect its workers,” said Roberto Sanchez, regional director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The investigation started in March after the U.S. Department of Labor received a single complaint about ammonia odors, tripping hazards and cutting and stabbing injuries.
Inspectors found a high number of safety hazards and expanded the inspection to the entire plant, where they found the 29 violations, according to Labor Department information.
The U.S. Department of Labor issued the notification Thursday and publicly released the violation list Tuesday.
In the past 10 years, Pilgrim’s Pride has been cited with 83 violations at plants across the U.S., according to U.S. Department of Labor data.
Before Tuesday’s notice, Pilgrim’s Pride received a maximum of nine violations during one inspection at its animal food manufacturing plant in Gainesville, Ga., that led to $7,500 in penalties.
The Russellville violations break down into three categories: two repeat safety violations with $35,000 in proposed penalties; 24 serious safety and health violations with $97,500 in proposed penalties; and three other-than-serious citations with a $3,000 proposed penalty.
The penalties for the Russellville plant included $5,000 for a 150-pound cylinder of chlorine that was left unsecure, according to the labor department. Raw chlorine, typically used to sanitize water, is caustic to human skin. The plant also lacked proper ventilation for ammonia, a component for refrigeration, an infraction that may cost the company $5,000, according to the Labor Department release.
The Labor Department release also cited the company was unprepared for an emergency in case ammonia leaked from the plant, a violation that may cost $5,000.
Stock in Pilgrim’s Pride, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, dipped 4.5 percent after the Labor Department release, ending at $6.40 per stock on light trading.
Trevor Stokes can be reached at 256-740-5728 or trevor.stokes@TimesDaily.com.